'He endangers the Constitution': Democrats unveil impeachment articles

Jon Ward
Senior Political Correspondent

Just over two months after opening an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, Democrats Tuesday unveiled two articles of impeachment: one for abuse of power and a second for obstruction of Congress.

Trump “compromised our national security and threatened the integrity of our elections” and then “attempted to conceal the evidence from Congress and from the American people,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.

“He endangers the Constitution, he endangers our democracy and he endangers our national security,” Nadler said at a morning press conference inside the U.S. Capitol.

“We do not take this action lightly, but we have taken an oath to defend the Constitution, and unlike President Trump we understand that our duty first and foremost is to protect the Constitution and to protect the interests of the American people,” Nadler said.

Nadler’s Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing to debate and vote on the articles “later this week,” he said. 

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel denounced the move as “a partisan attempt to overthrow a duly-elected President and rob voters of the chance to re-elect him in 2020."

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announce articles of impeachment against President Trump at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images, AP)

The articles were notably narrow, and did not include any obstruction of justice charges related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, or any mention of the word “bribery,” a specific crime in the Constitution related to impeachment, which Pelosi last month accused Trump of committing.

But the charges did say that “no president has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors.’”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not say when the full House will vote on the charges, but it is expected to do so next week. If a majority of the House approves the articles — which is likely, given the Democrats’ 233-to-197 majority — the charges would go to the Senate for a trial to decide whether the president will be removed from office.

Republicans control the Senate 53 to 47 and are not expected to remove the president, especially since doing so requires a 67-vote supermajority.

Democrats have known all along that the most likely outcome would be a House impeachment followed by a Senate acquittal, barring any dramatic developments. That has dictated their strategy, which has been to present a sober-minded and united effort to establish facts about what Trump did to pressure Ukraine to help him get reelected in 2020.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., oversaw the investigative phase of the inquiry, holding closed-door depositions, releasing transcripts of those depositions and then holding public hearings to allow the public to hear from those witnesses directly.

Bill Taylor, the current top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified under oath that it was clear to him that Trump was using a promised White House meeting and $400 million in military assistance to pressure the Ukrainian president to announce an investigation into leading Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Nancy Pelosi, Maxine Waters, Eliot Engel, Jerry Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Richard Neal and Adam Schiff during a news conference on Tuesday. (Photo: Susan Walsh/AP)

One of Taylor’s deputies in Kyiv, David Holmes, testified that he heard Trump speaking with the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, about the need for Ukraine to announce an investigation into Biden the day after Trump had spoken with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky about that same matter. Sondland also told Holmes that the president did not care about Ukraine but only about things that would help his domestic political prospects — the “big stuff,” as Sondland described it.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch told the committee about her attempts to urge Ukraine to fight corruption and how the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led a smear campaign against her to remove her from office. Other witnesses described how getting Yovanovitch out of the way opened the door for Giuliani to operate more freely in Ukraine, working with Sondland, former Energy Secretary Rick Perry and special envoy Kurt Volker, a lifelong diplomat.

Taylor, Sondland and others all said that Trump himself directed them to work with Giuliani.

And Fiona Hill, the former top Russia adviser to Trump, rebuked Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee for amplifying the notion that Ukraine’s government interfered in the 2016 election in any way equal or similar to the systematic and Kremlin-directed Russian campaign to disrupt the American elections and help Trump win.

Fiona Hill, former top Russia adviser to the White House, departs after providing testimony in the impeachment inquiry on Nov. 21. (Photo: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Republicans struggled to mount a defense of Trump’s actions, pointing to the actions of a few Ukrainian officials as reason for Trump to hold a grudge against the former Soviet country, which is currently fending off Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to weaken it. Russia annexed Crimea, which was part of Ukraine, in 2014.

Republicans also argued that pushing Ukraine to investigate corruption was legitimate, because of then-Vice President Biden’s pressure on Ukraine in 2015 to fire a former top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin. At the time, Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, which had been under investigation in the past.

But the overwhelming opinion in U.S. foreign policy circles and the broader international community was that Shokin was not doing enough to investigate corruption, so firing him did not help Burisma or the younger Biden.

In contrast, Democrats were always able to point to the rough transcript of the president’s July 25 phone call with Zelensky, where Trump asked him to “do us a favor” and then talked about the need to look into Biden.

The articles of impeachment state that “President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office” and that he “thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.”

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